Anglers asked to protect fish by avoiding sport in heat

With trout already stressed by low water flows and high temperatures, anglers are being urged to be more cautious than usual when handling and releasing fish.


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Heading for the high country this holiday week? Don’t expect to be alone.

Throngs of anglers are gearing up for a spot where the air and water are cool and clean.

Not surprisingly, trout are seeking similar relief.

With most streams at near-record low flows and high temperatures, anglers play a vital role in helping trout survive in what are becoming critical conditions.

Through Friday, the only official voluntary fishing closure was on the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs, but a similar closure is being considered for the White River near Meeker.

For now, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers are asking anglers to police themselves by fishing only during the cooler, early-morning hours or seeking out less-affected areas.

“The current situation is very stressful for fish,” said Bill de Vergie, area wildlife manager in Meeker. “We ask the public to help us protect this fishery by honoring our request and avoid it during the hottest part of the day, or perhaps find a cooler, higher-altitude fishery.”

Although high elevation alone isn’t always a refuge — last week the Fraser River near Tabernash recently surpassed 70 degrees with flows around 41 cubic feet per second — it does offer relief from triple-digit temperatures.

Until conditions improve anglers must be careful about how and when they fish.

You don’t have to stop fishing. There still are many places where trout are doing just fine.

A short list includes the lakes on Grand Mesa, although some of which may go dry later this summer, and reservoirs such as Blue Mesa, which is low but not in danger of going dry. Last Sunday, several anglers at Blue Mesa told me the kokanee fishing has been superb.

Dam-controlled rivers, such as the Taylor, the Fryingpan, and the Upper Colorado are great places to explore.

A report this week from outfitter and guide Jack Bombardier of Confluence Casting in Gypsum said good water management along the Colorado River, including the six reservoirs and the water rights of the Shoshone Power Plant, has kept water in the Colorado.

“I think that from a fishing perspective 2012 holds the possibility of being one of the best years ever to fish the Upper Colorado River,” said Bombardier (970-524-1440). “This is especially true in light of what other river basins are facing.”

Bombardier said 2012 on the Upper Colorado “should be for fishing what 2011 was for whitewater.”

And now it’s nanny time. The biggest threat anglers pose to trout survival, even under the best conditions, is mishandling. Holding the fish too long out of water, squeezing the fish, not using a net, careless hook removal, and even sloppier release all contribute to killing fish.

Colorado Trout Unlimited offers these handling tips:

■ Avoid playing fish to exhaustion.

■ Wet your hands before handling fish.

■ Avoid over-handling fish.

■ Return them to the water as soon as possible.

Also, use barbless hooks and the various hook-removers that keep the fish in the water during the release.

“Our best fishing areas are our catch-and-release waters, and anglers play a key role in making sure those areas stay healthy for years to come,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Theo Stein said. “By being careful how they play and release fish, anglers can ensure there will be fish surviving for future enjoyment.”


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